(TibetanReview.net, Sep17’21) – The position of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), of which China is an assertive member, is that “evidence tells us that learning first in one’s mother tongue leads to better outcomes in the future – for individuals, cultures, and nations.” However, a decree issued in July – and which came into force this month – by China’s Ministry of Education (MoE) mandates Mandarin Chinese education to all preschool children in Tibet and other “ethnic minority” areas, said Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) Sep 17.
The TCHRD said the MoE had announced in July that the “Children Homophony Plan for Putonghua Education for Preschool Children” will be enforced from Sep 1 to cultivate a strong foundation for standard Mandarin language and help “build a sense of community for the Chinese nation” from an early age.
It said Beijing’s plan requires all kindergartens across ethnic and rural areas to start using Mandarin Chinese as the medium of instruction for preschool activities while teachers must undergo “national common language application ability training” in batches during the 2021-2025 period.
The plan is said to employ a “pairing and assistance” concept prevalent in the wider Sinicization drive whereby wealthy Chinese provinces are mobilized to coordinate and carry out teacher-to-teacher, and kindergarten-to-kindergarten paired assistance in ethnic and rural areas. Suitable teachers are also to be sent from mainland China to minority areas.
The TCHRD said the plan was being promoted widely in coincidence with Teachers’ Day on Sep 10 and the annual “Putonghua Promotion Week” held in the third week of September.
It said the plan was being guided by Article 43 of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) which states, “We will raise the quality and level of education in ethnic minority regions and intensify efforts to popularize the national common language and writing system”.
The decree is said to call for wider adoption of a “one village, one kindergarten” model already underway in Sichuan Province. The province was said to have launched the pilot work of “learning Mandarin in preschool” in 2018, among other similar projects to advance Mandarin teaching.
The TCHRD noted that preschool or kindergarten education is imparted for three years to children five to six years of age. China has set a kindergarten enrolment rate target of 90% in its 14th Five-Year Plan with the MoE reporting on Aug 27 that the gross enrolment rate of pre-school education had increased to 85.2% in 2021.
The report cited local state media as reporting the penetration rate of Putonghua in Sichuan had exceeded 80%, with the setting up of 4,884 “one village, one kindergarten” preschool education centres, and training of 16,000 Mandarin counsellors, enabling 278,800 “ethnic minority” children to learn Mandarin before school.
The Tibetan prefectures of Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) and Ngaba (Aba) constitute about half the landmass of Sichuan, and a significant portion of the province’s population, said the TCHRD.
China’s latest move negates Article 10 of its 1984 Regional National Autonomy Law along with the PRC’s Constitution and other national laws and statutes which provide that minority languages and Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) should be used in ethnic minority areas, with citizens and officials being required to learn both minority languages and Putonghua.
China amended its regional autonomy law in 2001, introducing the current language policy.
The TCHRD noted that in Jan 2021, China’s rubber-stamp parliament declared the use of minority languages unconstitutional, further cementing the Chinese party-state’s aggressive attempts to assimilate minority nationalities into a single Chinese national identity.